Digital, is it a curse or saviour? I mentioned last year that a group of us had come together to see if we could use online technologies to help with the regeneration of Stanley. I’d put a report together to try and generate some interest and this week it was my opportunity to present it to the Area Action Partnership board.
It is easy to write off small towns, especially those that seem remote and don’t present as slick a face to the world as their cousins in the big cities yet they have a lot going for them. Nicholas Crane, in his BBC series ‘Town’ described them as smaller than a city, more intimate, more surprising. They are the main way that humans come together to live, big enough to provide all the amenities that we require. Our largest of cities are really a collection of smaller towns where the suburbs have started to overlap.
It’s easy to write off Stanley. Its Destination Development plan cites that there are four issues that need to be addressed: civic pride; vacant land and buildings suffering from fire damage and dilapidation; a town that looks in on itself; a cold and hard townscape that is difficult to navigate.
Yet it is easy to have pride in Stanley. It has things to offer that other places don’t. It sits in a rural setting on the edge of the Durham Dales. It is very close to a number of the county’s significant tourism assets including Beamish Museum, Diggerland and the coast to coast cycle route, as well as a number of well-regarded small family visitor attractions, small independent accommodation providers and pubs offering quality food.
The town also features in the BBC television series George Gently.
It is close to the Newcastle, Gateshead and Durham City conurbations and has a high ratio of independent traders, rather than nationals, as well as a lively street market. When travelling the country I often lament that nearly every town in the United Kingdom looks the same. Stanley doesn’t. It is unique.
I made my pitch. I suggested some of the ideas that we had come up with including: free WiFi in the high street; developing digital maps; online offers; Coast to Coast improved digital signage to enable travellers to stop; QR codes leading to local amenities; advertising for local hospitality and restaurants; drawing in bargain hunters and; click and collect.
The reaction was good, much better than I had expected. All I wanted at this stage was for people to understand what we are trying to do and be interested in helping. No money is needed yet, just enthusiasm. We need to create a collaboration of the willing and bring together different thoughts. There were a few questions and a couple of people talked to me after the meeting had finished.
I’m going to take this as another first for me, the forth (or is it the third) of the six things that I’ve never done before. I’ve done a bit of town planning.